Caught in the Ropes-The Descent of Scott Hall

I’m going to deviate from my own schtick here and discuss something personal. I typically like to discuss general issues from a different point of view, or at least attempt something off the beaten path, but I usually stick purely to what’s on screen and avoid talking about myself or the wrestlers themselves personally. There are a lot of great writers here who cover the big issues of the day in a manner far better than I could manage. But, following the news of Scott Hall reporting to jail, I had to internalize the notion that Scott is going to die, and soon. And while death is inevitable for everyone, Scott’s own demise is unfortunate because it was at his own hands. Scott chose to live the lifestyle he does, and his current problems can’t be pinned on anyone else. It’s both sad and personal for me, since Scott was one of my favorite wrestlers growing up.

Unlike a good number of wrestling fans, my parents didn’t like wrestling, and didn’t approve of my brothers and I watching this violent wrestling stuff. Many fans get into wrestling because a friend or family member, oftentimes a parent, instills an appreciation for it early in their lives. I had to watch wrestling when my parents weren’t around, or at a friend’s house; basically, I would watch when I didn’t have to worry about someone shutting off the TV. I watched as much as I possibly could, though I was never able to catch a PPV or attend a live event. I primarily watched the WWF during that time, though I did view WCW programming when I could. I loved the Undertaker, the Steiner Brothers, Vader, Papa Shango (for some odd reason), and Bret Hart. But one of my absolute favorites was Razor Ramon.

I hadn’t seen Scarface by that time, so I didn’t really understand the whole gimmick. I just thought he was a cool dude; all swagger and hairy-chested machismo. He also utilized one of my all-time favorite finishers, the Razor’s Edge. The Crucifix Powerbomb was unique; there wasn’t anyone at that time with a move quite like it. His ladder matches with HBK became legendary, stealing the show at Wrestlemania X and cementing his place in the minds of WWF fans. Even when Scott moved on to WCW, formed the nWo, and helped kick off the Monday Night Wars, I was still secretly rooting for him. He was, in my mind, one of the greatest of his generation, and assuredly one of the greatest Intercontinental champions ever.

But Scott has been living within a personal hell of his own creation for decades now, a truth that has been well documented. Like Shawn Michaels, a fellow member of The Kliq, Scott was known for his hard-partying lifestyle and willingness to work while inebriated. Aside from just being dumb, trying to get into the ring when you’re in no condition to do so poses a massive risk both to yourself and the guy or guys you’re working with. Like Shawn, Scott was suspended by the-then WWF for drug abuse before he eventually left for WCW.

While there are some comparisons to be drawn between Shawn and Scott, a more apropos comparison would be between Scott and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. If you’ve never seen the documentary Beyond the Mat, it’s worth a watch, specifically for the heartbreaking scenes with Jake. Both were supremely talented men who, unlike Shawn Michaels, were never able to kick their debilitating habits. Drugs and booze have alienated both men from friends, wives, and their own children. They were men blinded by the spotlight and run into the ground by a difficult, grueling profession, men who chose to wrap themselves in the comfort of their vices. As we’ve seen over the years, they were not the only ones.

Far too often, we as fans are forced to look the dark, seedy underbelly of the wrestling business in the eye when another superstar or legend passes away before their time. Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Luna Vachon, Brian Pillman; the list can go on and on. While the WWE and other promotions have crafted “wellness policies” to try and prevent these kind of tragedies and primarily, in my cynical opinion, the overwhelmingly negative PR that comes with them, they haven’t addressed the root problems. As we’ve seen with Jeff Hardy and others during the current era, these “wellness policies” don’t address the exhausting schedule which directly leads to long-term injuries and loneliness. Because so many performers need to work even if they are injured, since the WWE obviously has no issue with firing someone for being too injury-prone, alcohol and prescription drug abuse are ways to cope with the pain. Loneliness and isolation can, in no uncertain terms, lead to depression, which exacerbates drug and alcohol abuse.

I’m sure the WWE and all the other wrestling promotions across the world realize this, but few have shown any initiative in enacting changes. The money still comes first, and that isn’t any real surprise. What offends me the most is the particulars of the WWE’s wellness policy. A performer’s first, or baseline, test carries no repercussions. If a new talent tests positive for illegal drug use, nothing happens. The first (post-baseline) positive test carries with it a 30-day suspension without pay, a second positive means a 60-day suspension, and a third means termination. According to the WWE, the doctor performing these tests may choose to send the individual to a substance abuse facility after their second positive test (not including the baseline) instead of REQUIRING them to go as a condition of their employment. Why the WWE wouldn’t make first-time offenders, or individuals who test positive in their baseline test, go to some sort of treatment or attend NA meetings is beyond me. Sending someone with a substance abuse problem home without pay is more likely to inflame the problem rather than stamp it out.

I’m sure some readers will wonder why the WWE, or any promotion, should feel responsible for the addictions of one of their performers. I’ll simply say that there’s enough anecdotal evidence, from autopsies performed on deceased wrestlers as well as backstage stories from business veterans, to suggest that the business itself is in some way responsible for what is going on. And if promotions aren’t willing to change the way they do business, then they should at least take some measure of responsibility when it comes to the health and welfare of their performers. To be clear, it’s not just the WWE that has issues with looking out for their talent; Nobukazu Hizai is in the hospital after suffering a stroke following a match. It’s believed that the stroke was the result of a nasty backstage beating he took, along with head trauma suffered in recent matches that he attempted to work through. I was watching some AAA programming on television recently, and there were a number of unprotected chair-shots to the head that made me cringe. This is the kind of stuff that can lead to fatal or severe injuries, which may, in certain people, breed substance abuse.

Scott Hall’s problems, as I have mentioned before, are no deep, unspoken industry secret. Hell, his ex-wife wrote an open letter lambasting WCW for allowing Scott to perform inebriated and exploiting Scott’s personal problems for use in angles. People in the industry, especially friends like Kevin Nash, knew how deep his problems ran. Many, however, were willing to make excuses for his behavior; Nash blamed Scott’s problems on post-traumatic stress disorder. Agents have routinely dismissed reports of Scott’s drug and alcohol abuse, as well as reports of Scott showing up to gigs inebriated, including his notorious appearance at a Massachusetts show for Top Rope Promotions, a situation that Scott Garland (Scotty 2 Hotty, who was at the show) called, “…the saddest, most embarrassing thing in my career.” I’m not trying to point the finger for Scott’s problems, but every excuse that guys like Nash make for Scott and his actions only serve to further his downfall. By making an excuse for his addiction, these individuals make it easier for Scott to blame someone besides himself for his issues.

The WWE did try to help Scott after he was fired from TNA in 2010, sponsoring his visit to rehab. The trip only resulted in unfortunately predictable results. According to Scott, he’s been to rehab around 19 times, along with an staggering amount of AA and NA meetings. Now, at the age of 53, Scott has reported to jail to serve time for a “resisting arrest” charge. However, due to his condition, he will serve his time in the jail’s medical facility. While some men and women may never find a way to free themselves from the unfortunate vices that consume them, it doesn’t make the situation any less tragic.

In 2010, Shawn Michaels received a great send-off at Wrestlemania, a final grand moment in the spotlight, a fitting finale for such a fantastic career. In 2010, Scott was fired from TNA, leaving not the image of a legendary performer, but that of a haggard, out-of-shape, bloated, wreck of a man. While I sincerely hope that Scott Hall can clean himself up and make one final appearance for the WWE, I seriously doubt it. It’s depressing for me to admit that one of my childhood favorites won’t be able to walk down the ramp under his own power one more time and take a bow in front of the crowd he gave so much for, to go out in a blaze of pyrotechnics and confetti. Instead, I’ll hear the news one day and shake my head and wonder how things could have gone so wrong for him, and hope I’ll never have to hear anything like it again.

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